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SAN FRANCISCO The vast range of form and expression of
20th-century music were on full display at the second evening of the
San Francisco Symphony's American
Mavericks series on Friday at Davies Symphony Hall.
Conductor and series founder Michael Tilson
Thomas, drawing on intimate yet immense instrumental forces
as well as the individual talents of composer
COLOR="#003163">Meredith Monk COLOR="#003163">Lauren Flanigan
COLOR="#003163">Meredith Monkand soprano
COLOR="#003163">Lauren Flanigan offered an evening
rich in detail, grandeur and the joy of expression.
"[These] composers share the same sense of playfulness and defiance,
the same sense of wonder and exaltation, ... but also a dedication
to expressivity," Tilson Thomas said at the start, striking a philosophical
chord that would ring through the rest of the concert.
The performance opened with the rumbling timpani of Carl
Ruggles' Sun-Treader, which presaged a constant building
of low-end, blaring horns and ominous tones that unfolded in dramatic,
dynamic movement. Two screens flanked the orchestra with still images
of the composer, who seemed to be contemplating the piece's deeply
Ruth Crawford Seeger's Adante
for Strings contrasted the grand gestures of Ruggles' piece with
dreamlike drones. The minimal string work formed a dense tapestry of
sound that was imbued with subtle emotion.
Flanigan joined the orchestra for German-American composer
COLOR="#003163">Lukas Foss' Time Cycle, which concluded
the first half of the program. Known for incorporating improvisation
into his pieces in order "to free students from the tyranny of
the printed note" Foss' 1960 composition incorporated texts by
W.H. Auden, Kafka and Nietzche that Flanigan delivered with mesmerizing
The piece, which occasionally recalled John
Cage's Gamelan-influenced prepared piano sonatas, was almost
postmodern in its use of pizzicato strings, harp and mallet instruments.
Foss, who was in attendance, received the first standing ovation of the
evening as he bowed to the enthusiastic crowd, which included
COLOR="#003163">Grateful Deadbassist Phil
Lesh and fellow Maverick composer Lou
After a brief intermission, Meredith Monk and
Co. performed four a cappella pieces from her opera ATLAS.
Eleven singers held hands on the first piece, and, with their eyes closed,
sang elaborate phase music. From left to right, the song moved in canon,
notes elongating as the movement created a canvas of percolating, pulsating
textures. As delivered to its rapt audience, the movement engendered a
beatific silence that surrounded the delicate and hypnotic compositions
with an almost sacred air.
That atmosphere was promptly dispersed when Tilson Thomas trotted out
Charles Ives' 20th-century warhorse,
Symphony Number 4. Referring to its composer as "a musical and
transcendental master," the conductor noted that Ives attempted to
create music that was "based on music people all very well knew."
As the piece began with phrases from the massive Davies' Hall organ,
the chorus rose to perform "In The Sweet By and By" and "Nearer, My God,
to Thee," which were included in the first movement. As the work
progressed, different sections of the orchestra often competed with each
other, sometimes playing entirely different melodies and themes. Combining
this cacophony with moments of beauty and an extremely rich sonic palette
(which included a theremin and various percussive sounds), Symphony
Number 4 brought the second night of American Mavericks to a majestic